Let's face it: even the most diehard Boston Celtics fans expect mediocrity in the upcoming 2013-14 season. It's not pessimism—it's realism.
But how bad will they be? Will the Celtics once again cling to a .500 record, and sneak in through the backdoor of the postseason? Or will they reach new levels of awful?
Many factors seem to suggest that this coming season will be the worst since 2006-07, when Boston finished a paltry 24-58. That sounds absolutely terrible, but only until the realization that the Celtics retooled and won the NBA Finals one season later, proceeding to win the Atlantic Division five straight years.
Sometimes, you have to be awful short-term to succeed long-term. Here are the reasons Boston will be far worse next season than their 41-40 record of 2012-13.
Lack of Chemistry
The general defense from Celtics fans these days seems to involve the impermanence of the current roster. Many appropriately expect president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to make more moves by the end of the summer.
While this notion seems more than likely accurate, it doesn't preclude the Celtics from an abysmal year. After all, the most probable trades include larger contracts like the recently-acquired Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Say what you will about them but they are easily two of the top six players on the squad.
Any new acquisition from the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade must be on Boston's roster for a full two months before they are allowed to be traded with other players. Until then, they must go individually or not at all. Considering Wallace has a deal worth three years and over $30 million—and Humphries enjoys a team-leading $12 million salary despite being a shell of his former self—don't expect any teams to come out of the woodwork to grab one of them in a solo deal.
That's good for the Celtics down the road (noticing a theme?) but rough for the upcoming year. Boston will have a tough time meshing as a unit if it cannot nail down its nucleus of players until mid-to-late September.
Compound that with the fact that the Celtics' average age is 25 years old, they have a brand new coaching staff and the player with the second-longest tenure with the team is Avery Bradley (three seasons), and you're bound to experience chemistry issues.
Positions of Need Worsened
Last season and postseason exposed two of Boston's positional scarcities: point guard and center. Amazingly, despite seven new faces on the roster, the Celtics arguably got worse at these spots.
With Rajon Rondo still rehabbing his knee, undrafted rookie acquisition Phil Pressey sits as the only healthy point guard on the roster. There's a lot to like about the Missouri product, who had an impressive Orlando Summer League stint. But he still has a lot to prove, like whether he can avoid turning the ball over 10 times a game against solid opposition.
There's an old saying that goes “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” I guess that's the mantra here. For the most part, Pressey won't be as bad at the point as Avery Bradley was in last year's eyesore of a playoff series against the New York Knicks. But he won't be much better, either.
As for the center position, the Celtics will most likely revert to starting a power forward out of position. The only problem there: It won't be All-Star and defensive anchor Kevin Garnett.
Boston drafted Gonzaga sharpshooting seven-footer Kelly Olynyk, who looks like a stud but will probably play more of a stretch-four role. Ainge acquired Brazilian center Vitor Faverani from Spanish team Valencia, but he looks like another project.
And speaking of projects, Fab Melo still looks as shoddy as ever. He could end up on Boston's D-League squad, the Maine Red Claws, once again. Colton Iverson, the second-round draft pick Ainge bought from the Indiana Pacers, will probably play overseas even if he makes the cut with the C's.
That leaves Shavlik Randolph, whose rebounding rates in the 20s were quite impressive last season considering he came right from the Chinese Basketball Association on a 10-day contract in March. However, he must be signed by August 1 or he'll become a free agent. There's no room for him right now on the roster, so he could be out of the picture.
Is your head spinning yet? The Celtics have 15 players with guaranteed contracts, seven of which are brand spanking new and they still don't have a starting center. Expect Kris Humphries to fill the void if he remains on the team as of October. Otherwise, it could be sophomore power forward Jared Sullinger, if his back fully recovers from surgery by then.
Regardless, the Celtics' rebounding woes (second-worst in the NBA last season) and blocked shot disparities (22nd) could go from bad to historically awful.
Building Around Rajon Rondo
Nobody said it would be easy to start a rebuilding process. But it might be more difficult to build around an enigmatic point guard with a poor jump shot and ACL problems.
Full disclosure: These statements aren't in any way attempts to defame the 27-year-old's incredible skill set and clear All-Star talent as a passer, defender and overall brain.
I recognize that he led the league in assists (11.1 per game) when he suffered his season-ending partial tear in late January. I also realize that Boston's record was 20-23 at that time.
The biggest concerns with Rondo involve his attitude and leadership. Character flaws and spontaneous outbursts have seriously hurt Boston in the past, and could bury it if they persist.
That said, it also seems a bit disconcerting for your best player and biggest offensive threat to struggle shooting the ball. His penchant for driving to the lane have kept his overall field goal percentage at a respectable 48.1 percent, but examine the rest of the picture. He's a career 24.1 percent shooter from beyond the three-point line. He's never shot 65 percent from the free-throw stripe.
But the most befuddling might be his mid-range game. Looking at his shot charts from between the elbows and the three-point line, it's like a barren desert—there's not a lot of green.
Since 2008, Rondo's inefficiency from 16-23 feet has been about as downplayed as any point guard in the history of professional hoops. During that span, he has topped out at 42 percent from that outer-range area, an atrocious 305-of-726.
Never mind that he's mending an injury to one of the most crucial parts of an athlete's body. Disregard his unsavory attitude and the fact that he'll lead a young, unproven squad for a 36-year-old rookie coach. Rondo cannot shoot the ball.
That will be as evident as ever this upcoming season—a season in which his team will need him to put up buckets (between KG, Pierce and Jason Terry, Boston lost 1,179 field goals from last season).
Early Prediction for 2013-14: 29-53
Now that I've told you how bad Boston will be next season, let me take a moment to thank you and all of my other loyal readers for following me throughout my Bleacher Report career. It has been a great six months here at BR, and I truly appreciate the editing staff, writers and fans who make it such a superb site. Please continue to follow me on Twitter @SloanPiva. Thanks again, everyone! -Sloan
All statistical data and shot chart information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com/Stats. Salary information from HoopsWorld.com.
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